Manchester United star Juan Mata believes Antonio Valencia will hold the key to a Champions League victory against CSKA Moscow on Wednesday.
The Ecuador winger scored the only goal of the game when United last visited the home of the current Russian Premier League leaders in the group stages of the 2009-10 season.
With Louis van Gaal’s side having lost their opening away game against PSV last month, Mata hopes Valencia can offer some insight into inflicting a first home defeat on Leonid Slutsky’s side this term to take them to six points from three games.
“We have three points after the first two weeks and the game in Moscow could be crucial,” Mata wrote in his blog. “Defeating CSKA would give us momentum ahead of the last three games.
“I’ve been told that Antonio Valencia scored the winner for United the last time the team visited CSKA, so we will ask him for the secret to beat them because they haven’t lost at home this season, both in the group stage and in the previous rounds.”
CSKA recorded a valuable 3-2 win over PSV on matchday two and maintained their advantage at the top of the Russian table at the weekend with a victory over Ural by the same scoreline.
For coach Leonid Slutsky, however, a lack of control during those two game is placing unnecessary pressure on CSKA’s players.
“Unfortunately, we’re unable to control the entire match at the moment,” he said after the Ural win.
“Even those games, which went relatively well for us, like the game against PSV or today’s game, we turn these games into victories by a single goal. The score puts some pressure on you in these situations.”
A thigh injury means Vasili Berezutski is a doubt for the game, while midfielder Bibras Natkho is expected to be sidelined with concussion.
For United, Bastian Schweinsteiger is nursing a knee complaint, while Ashley Young (calf) and Paddy McNair (abdominal) are expected to be unavailable. Luke Shaw (broken leg) remains the only long-term absentee.
CSKA are currently enjoying their longest ever unbeaten run at home in the Champions League, having won one and drawn two of their last three matches. United, meanwhile, will set a new record of their own should they suffer defeat, as they have lost each of their last three away games in the competition.
English sides have generally enjoyed high-scoring affairs against CSKA – the last five encounters have produced a total of 23 goals.